APD body camera purchase held up amid procurement dispute

For more than a year, the Atlanta Police Department has tested body camera equipment — work that began before widespread scrutiny over police use of force in minority communities.

APD hoped to order and begin using the equipment in coming months. But now, a deal to purchase more than 1,000 cameras is on hold because a local vendor is decrying what he says was an unfair bidding process. His chief complaint? That Atlanta didn’t open up the competition to others.

Ted Davis, head of Decatur-based Utility Inc., is questioning why the city didn’t put the body camera contract out to bid and instead is poised to spend millions on body camera technology from Arizona-based Taser International. Under the deal — which has not received final approval from the Atlanta City Council — Atlanta would spend about $2 million in the first year for 1,100 cameras; the cost also includes software, video storage and maintenance costs, according to Mayor Kasim Reed’s office.

Davis, whose company entered the body camera arena only in the past two years, said his product would cost the city about a half million dollars less than Taser’s over a three-year period. He believes his product offers more features, including real-time video uploads and programming that prevents an officer from turning off the camera. What’s more, he said, records show that APD tested his product and it received glowing reviews from officers and the city’s chief IT official.

“I don’t understand how they’re doing this stuff; they’re making up the rules as they go along,” Davis said. “It’s a revolving story.”

A council committee initially approved the purchase from Taser, but has now tabled the contract amid the controversy. Still, the issue could be voted on as soon as Monday when the full council convenes.

Under a special procurement process, Atlanta struck a tentative deal with Taser based on a contract that police in Louisville, Ky., awarded to the company. Davis disputes that it qualifies under the city’s special procurement rules, which allow them to bypass competitive bidding under certain conditions.

The Atlanta Police Department did not respond to several requests for interview, but Deputy Chief Cerelyn Davis gave some insight into the force’s decision at a recent council committee hearing. Taser is among the leaders in the public safety technology field and has body camera contracts with several major cities, she said.

“We wanted to make sure that we were going with a product that we knew could be supported and had not had issues out in the field with the officers,” she said. “Everything we’ve done to get to this point has been very methodical to ensure that we make a prudent decision.”

A spokeswoman for Reed’s administration issued a statement indicating the city is re-examining the procurement process. The initial purchase agreement was based on a competitive bid conducted by a police agency in Louisville, Ky., that awarded the contract to Taser.

“The Chief Procurement Officer is reviewing the needs of the body camera pilot project and will determine the appropriate method to procure body cameras,” spokeswoman Anne Torres wrote.

Last month, Davis, of Utility, filed a complaint letter to Chief Procurement Officer Adam Smith in which he asked him to halt the deal, according to documents provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Smith responded that, because the deal wasn’t put out to bid, Davis has no grounds to protest.

“You have not submitted a bid or proposal in response to a solicitation, you are not an actual offeror and you do not have standing to protest,” Smith wrote on July 8.

Davis is vowing to keep up the fight.

“If we don’t win this thing, then we’re out forever in Atlanta. So we’re going to fight, and we’re going to do everything we can to win it,” he said.

Josh Isner, head of global sales for Taser, said he doesn’t view the purchase as a done deal. “We’re just as happy to compete and we support any decision by APD on this issue.”

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